From a restaurant perspective, Valentine’s Weekend is a more appropriate phrase than Valentine’s Day.
In my experience, sometime in the last 15 years, things changed. Instead of one day of heavy holiday volume and a day of overflow (before or after, depending on the Valentine’s Day’s placement in the week), it has become a solid week of increased business.
Yes, the day itself is the biggest rainmaker/staff-crusher, but the week around it has become something like a mini-Christmas season.
This week it falls on Saturday. Already at Michael’s the dinner reservations for tonight (Wednesday) are more than double usual. Same with Carney’s. This will trend will accelerate until Valentine’s Day. I guarantee Sunday, the day after, will be as busy as a typical Saturday. Then come Monday and Tuesday, we’ll be getting the extra parties celebrating ‘late.’
This has happened because Valentine’s Day is a nightmare. Everyone has their Valentine’s Day dinner fiasco story (or multiple stories).
I recall one year I when I somehow had the day off at the Rusty Pelican. I made reservations for myself and my girlfriend at another store in the chain. This was going to be fun. I’d never actually been out on a real Valentine’s Day before. I was always either without the night off, or without a girlfriend to squire.
It promised to be a great night. The Rusty Pelican was at the time an upper-echelon restaurant (chain): popular, trendy, high-quality, expensive. My girlfriend and I both worked there, so I didn’t come off as cheap for taking advantage of the employee discount. Plus, we figured to have the red carpet rolled out for us because we were valued ‘team members.’ We went to a high-gloss suburban version Rusty Pelican (quite a lot were situated by the ocean and had a more funky, maritime vibe).
Walking in the door, it was pandemonium. At least twenty people right there in the entry way. Of course our table wasn’t ready – they were running behind. No problem for us, though. We always liked having a drink in the bar beforehand.
We crossed over to the bar – the very large bar – and saw quickly there was absolutely nowhere to sit. Every table, bar stool – even every flat surface on which to set your drink – was occupied. We edged towards the service station at the bar. You waiters know this is a big no-no, but when you’re in the business you kind of feel it’s okay. We waited for a gap between cocktail waitresses and caught the bartender’s attention. I quickly stated the store I worked at, and could he just get us a couple quick drinks?
That worked. Of course, we had nowhere to sit or lean, so we stood there drinking. After the first drink we checked, and still no table. Two more drinks. And finally a third round. After those, it had been more than an hour. I had the little woman go up and ream some ass.
She prefaced that we were employees, and could stand a little wait, but this was ridiculous. At that point, they couldn’t even find our reservation. A manager took charge and led us immediately into the dining room . . .
To an 8-top round – obviously a temporary addition – as flimsy as an old ping-pong table, and listing severely to one side. Right next to the kitchen door.
So we sat at this massive round table, with our drinks in danger of toppling from gravity and instability and had our dinner. The service was slow. The fish was cold and over-cooked. The banging of the kitchen door was constant as a hammer on a construction site. And at the end, they forgot to give us our employee discount. It was such a problem, a manager came over to apologize for the delay in processing the check, alone. (Never mind all the other shortcomings of the experience.)
Stories like this are why all waiters know: Dining out on Valentine’s Day, February 14th, is for losers.
Lots of restaurants jack up their prices, condense their menus, or even serve completely different menus. The crowds make everything difficult. There’s pressure to get in and get out. You’re going to have to wait for your table. Then you’re going to have to wait for your food, as the kitchen is over-taxed. Your complaints will not be addressed, because they are so abundant, managers and servers give up trying to stem the tide.
It’s the other days that are great. You servers out there, make note how many ‘cool’ couples, quality diners, you serve on the other days. Compare that to the fools who show up February 14th.
Also, not to start another topic, but does anybody else take issue with the fact that somehow Valentine’s Day has become Girlfriend’s Day? It’s a day of love, romance, dedicated to couples. Yet you never hear a guy go, ‘My girlfriend’s taking me to Spago for Valentine’s.’